Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fond Farewells

Teammates leave our organizations all the time. Career goals and family situations change. Passions and goals are pursued. Retirement age eventually causes everyone to change course. People move on.

What do you do when people leave? Do you turn your back on a quitter – or do you take the opportunity to thank them for their service? Do you burn the bridge behind the departees – or build a bridge that can one day bring them back? How you deal with this issue will speak volumes about your organization – and about your leadership.

Here are a few things I have been thinking about lately when we have lost people:

-- Conduct exit interviews. There is nothing like a person’s departure to learn what causes people to leave, where the organization might do better, and how you can improve as a leader.

-- Don’t miss the opportunity to ask this question: What will it take to help you stay? If there is anything that can tip the scales, it is often much cheaper than the cost of recruiting and training a replacement. Sometimes people just want to be asked, to know that they are valued.

-- Reward past accomplishments. Despite your disappointment, don’t miss the opportunity to recognize the contributions to the organization of people who leave. Options range from the Gold Watch to lunch on the boss. Treat people like you would want to be treated. Celebrate all they have done for you and for the team, and be excited about their future opportunities.

-- Manage the transition. Change is difficult. The leader’s job is to ensure that gaps are covered, that duties and responsibilities are passed along to someone else, and that the team keeps moving forward.

-- Don’t burn bridges. People change their minds. Keep those doors open and let them know they will be welcomed back. Depending on how you handle their departure, these employees can be your best recruiters – or your worst! You may also find these folks serving as consultants, suppliers, or some other extension of your team. Don’t discount the value of maintaining a positive relationship to your future bottom line.

How we manage the departure of our employees speaks loudly about our leadership. The word about how they are treated will spread throughout the organization and will either contribute to people staying – or encourage them to leave. Don’t turn your back on those who leave. And don’t take their departure personally. Usually it is not you…it is them! People move on. You (probably) did! Manage this critical period of transition. This is Leader Business.

5 comments: said...

The exit interview is tough to do though. I did read a science study showing people are less likely to lie when face to face which means a written or emailed comment is not that useful compared to taking the comments dierectly.

Tom Magness said...

Thanks for stopping by, CPE. Perhaps there is something to a combination of written comments and face-to-face interview. Each may draw out comments that the other could not. But, as you say, this is difficult and takes discipline to make it work!

Mark said...

Tom, I conducted an exit interview recently. When I asked for feedback on my performance I received an answer of, "yeah, its all good". There was a moderate rank difference, but I'm wondering what should your expectation be? Does the above comment mean the team member was content, or does it mean they are being polite?


Tom Magness said...


This is where I think asking them for some written comments beforehand (or brought to the exit interview) will give you some things to talk about. Similarly, you might provide some things for the other person to think about. Tell them you'd like some feedback on what is going well, what could be better, and what would make your organization a great place to work. Without taking things personally, ensure you understand fully why the person is leaving. Ask leading questions about specific things: employee programs, leader development and training, communication, etc. Keep me posted, my friend!

Mark said...


You're right, it's a GIGO process. I guess I kinda invited the vague feedback because my questioning technique was non-specific.

I really like the idea of asking them to write it down and bring it along - it's a lot harder to walk in with a blank page but if you go for verbal, that's what you sometimes get!

Thanks again